Dead Doll Excerpt: Chapters 1 and 2
Arms outstretched, I grope along the wet wall of the tunnel. The footfalls behind me draw closer. I strain to see something, anything. But the blackness stretches on.
Who am I? How did I come here?
I remember only that I’m Doll Deirdre Draper, a sixteen-year-old girl torn from her home. But then, I did something unforgivable, and I lost the ones I love most.
I stumble through puddles and trip over loose stones.
You have to go forward to find the light.
Someone screams. A child. “Mommy? Where are you?”
The patter of tiny feet echoes over the throb of footsteps following me. A body half my height crashes into my belly. As the child claws at my arms and shirt, the sharpness of her apple cinnamon scent fills my nose. She smells like home. She’s my sister.
We tumble to the ground. I wrap myself around her, cradling her as she thrashes. “Lie still. I’ve got you now.”
But the footsteps find us. I tense, waiting for them to tear us apart.
Never, I vow. She’s my sister, and I’m hers. We won’t lose each other again.
With the heavy footsteps come sheets of frigid air. Goose bumps prickle on my skin.
“We’re all right,” I whisper. “We’re going to get out of this.”
Despite my iron grip, my sister stirs. “Who are you? You don’t smell like Mommy.”
A pang strikes my chest. “Don’t you remember me?”
I feel her draw breath to answer, but a pair of footsteps separates from the pack and staggers into our oasis. The figure trips over my legs, then collapses half on top of us. I cry out. As I press close to my sister, the stench of blood crawls into my nostrils.
Something falls from the figure’s hand. His moist breath tickles my cheek. “Whoops. Dropped my umbrella. Hand it to me, huh, Sugar?”
“Get off us,” I say. “Don’t call me that.”
To my relief, the man shifts his weight without another word. As I fumble at the ground, I wonder what frightens me more. The fact that footfalls followed us here. Or the fact that they are human. At last I find the slick fabric folds and hooked handle of the drunk’s umbrella. I fling it in the direction he’s gone.
“Did he hurt you?”
“No.” My sister’s tears drip on my palm. “But who made us come here?”
“If I knew that, we wouldn’t be here now.” I squeeze her shoulder. “But we’ll find out. We’ll make them take us home.”
I stand, pulling her up by her armpits. “Let’s keep going.”
“Are we in a monster’s mouth?”
“I hope not.” One of my questions haunts me. Are we even alive?
She winds her whole body around my leg. “My neck hurts. Carry me?”
“Of course.” Despite this place, I smile.
I swing her tiny body into my arms where she buries her wet face in my shoulder.
“Where are you taking me?” she asks. “Sister.”
At the word, a barrage of images floods my mind’s eye. I see a woman’s long, dark hair streaming behind her like a jellyfish. When I reach out to touch the strands, they run like dirty water through my grip. Blackness cloaks the place where my memories should be. It strangles me.
Then I feel the lace of a child’s eight fingers and two tiny thumbs around my neck. My little savior.
Together, we inch through the tunnel’s turns, going further into the darkness, deeper into the screaming silence. Just when I think my legs can go no further, twin lights puncture the wall of dark.
I stop. “Do you see those? I’m not crazy, am I?”
“I see lights.” She shivers. “They scare me.”
As I squint, the lights flash brighter. I feel the rumbling of an engine under my feet. Could Mother and Dad be searching for us?
“Don’t be scared. It’ll be okay,” I promise.
“If the bad angels are waiting, you won’t let them hurt me again, right?”
My legs carry us toward the mouth of the tunnel of their own will. “What bad angels?”
“The ones that hurt my neck.”
In the sudden brightness, I see the child I carry for the first time.
She’s familiar, startlingly so, but she isn’t my sister. She isn’t whole either. Her nose has been crushed. A necklace of congealed blood circles her throat.
My gorge rises. “Oh God. What did they do to you? You—You’re—”
Tears well in her milky eyes. Then she nods so hard her hair flaps like wings. The motion dislodges her head. It topples from her shoulders to hang by one sinewy string.
I open my mouth in a scream. My arms lock her against me as if I’ll heal her if only I hold tight enough.
“What’s wrong?” she asks. “Are you scared for me?”
“Yes. We have to get you to a hospital.”
She touches my face with a blood-streaked hand. “It’s okay. You don’t need to. I’m already dead.”
She cuts me off. “And, sister, you’re dead, too.”
I pitch backward. The girl’s dislodged head sways. It bumps against my chest, smiling upside down.
“Are you going to drop me?” she asks.
I can’t form words.
I want to tell her that as a child—the same age as her—I read Tales from the Dark. Amazing, the memories that come in moments of terror. I want to tell her that what’s happening to us now is my worst nightmare, brought to life—to death.
But I would never say these things to a child, would never abandon a child in need. I may have done unforgivable things, but they weren’t heartless.
“I’m going to put you down because I need to think,” I tell her. “I’m not leaving.”
Trying to control my trembling, I set her on the ground. I glance at the lights, then back at her milky blue eyes. Is it my imagination, or are they the same shade I remember mine?
I right her decapitation and squeeze her shoulder. “We’re going to get you help.”
“Us help,” she corrected. “You’re dead, too.”
“How could I forget?” I swipe at a line of black fluid dripping down her neck.
She grabs my wrist. “Let’s go to the lights.”
“You’re not scared anymore?”
“No. I have you. And we’re going to stay together.” She drags me forward with all the strength her little body can muster.
My legs follow, ignoring my internal command to race back into the darkness. We pass out of the mouth of the tunnel into a chilly, barren scape. Rain flecks the air. Before us, a road ripples like snakeskin in the thunderstorm.
The lights come from a vehicle weaving down the two-lane highway. When lightning flashes, I see the burnt-out yellow and black sign on top of it says TAXI.
“We have to get the driver’s attention,” I tell the girl. I turn to the cab, waving my arms. “Please, we need help. Stop the car.”
Next to me, the girl hops up and down, screaming at the top of her lungs. The cab veers in our direction.
“We did it.” I swoop down and pull her into my arms. “I told you we’d be okay.”
Suddenly, I see her in a different light. Though she’s here with me in death, she isn’t part of my nightmares.
“If it wasn’t for you, I might still be lost in the tunnel,” I tell her. “Thank you for finding me.”
She smiles. “You found me, too.”
Then, the taxi pulls up alongside us.
“Do you remember where you live?” I ask the girl. Lived, I mean.
She shakes her head, and I frown. I can’t recall my address either.
“The driver will know where a police station is,” I say.
The door to the taxicab opens. A thin man climbs out from the driver’s side. His back is twisted into a hump, over which he wears a black cloak. His eyes are black holes. They suck the air from my lungs. He grins, his mouth full of jagged teeth.
“Stay behind me,” I say. I won’t let you get hurt again.
When she wraps her arms around my middle, the brittle feel of her gives me courage.
“Are you here to help us?” I ask.
The taxi driver’s empty, endless eyes inspect my face. “Climb in the car.”
“No. We’re not going anywhere with you unless you take us straight to a police station.”
The driver laughs, the sound of it like nails on my skin. “Big words for such a little person.”
The girl’s hair brushes my forearm as she pokes her face out from behind me. “She’s not a little person. She’s all growed up. And she’s not afraid of you.”
The taxi driver’s head swivels on his neck, his black eyes bulging as he stares at her.
I nudge her back behind me. “Who are you? Do you have a license for that cab?”
The driver’s eyes snap back to me. “I am Kharon of the rivers Styx and Acheron. I have ferried the dead since the beginning of time. You could say I was the first taxi-man, so I need no license.”
“We’re not going with you if you don’t have a license,” I say.
In an instant, Kharon moves from standing beside his taxi to towering over me. One bone-colored arm shoots from his robes. He clenches my wrists in one huge hand, then grabs my face with the other. “Big words for a little person with no obol on her lips. Obey me, or I will teach you a lesson that even an eternity of death won’t let you forget.”
He tosses me onto the road. The back of my head smacks against the slick asphalt. I lie there, dazed.
“An obol?” I ask at last.
“The price you pay for safe passage from the tunnel of death into Purgatory,” the driver says. He turns on the girl. “Have you brought a coin for me?”
I struggle to my feet, shrugging off the pain. “Leave her alone.” I ram into him with all my strength.
The driver absorbs my weight. As he grabs my face again, his long nails sink into my jaw. His pupils widen, not empty now but full of hellfire. From the depths, tongues dart forth to lap at my brows. I try, but I can’t look away.
The tongues of his pupils stiffen. They drive into my wide eyes. I hear myself cry out as he stab my irises.
“You will obey.” The driver’s voice echoes in my head.
“Leave us alone.” I mean to sound strong, but my last word is little more than a moan.
“Who are you to resist me?” Kharon asks.
Is that surprise I hear in his voice? I cling to the possibility, using it like a shield.
“If you have to take somebody, take me. Don’t hurt her.”
“That shadow of yours will go to Heaven,” the driver says, “but you—” He seems to purr, the noise grating. “You have a soul that begs to be devoured. I will have your power for my own.”
My power? The girl, a shadow?
My thoughts splinter as his presence seeps through my body. I kick out but can’t stop him. He keeps coming, his tongues sucking, his eyes pulling my soul from my body.
He steals my childhood, my first kiss, the sun from my skin. As these images bleed away, my world greys. I droop in his arms.
Finally, it’s over. The tongues of his pupils disappear back into his eyes. Released, I fall. My knees crack on the ground.
“I’m going to put you in the car now,” Kharon says.
I notice he stands straighter than before. And…the girl is gone.
“Where is—” I reach for her as he drags my carcass to the cab.
Before Kharon answers, my eyes flutter. Darkness closes around me. In the last spot of my mind that still belongs to me, I see the little girl’s smile.
I’ll find you, I promise. I’ll find out who you are and where you belong.
Erin York, service-learning coordinator for AmeriCorps at Mitchell College, has published numerous poems and short prose. She won the national Younkin-Rivera Prize for Young Writers for poetry in 2008, and this year her work appeared in The Screech Owl and Busting and Droning Magazine. York earned a B.A. in creative writing from University of Missouri-Kansas City. Go online to erinyorkauthor.blogspot.com or email her at email@example.com for more information.